How has Jesus been the hero of this year’s story for you? This is one of the questions I want you to consider over the next couple of weeks as we prepare for our final gathering of 2017. I am not planning a sermon that day. On Sunday, December 31, the message comes from all of us as we set aside a service of remembrance. I am deeply convinced of the truth that God wants to work through you in every area of your life – wherever you live, work, learn and play. I also believe that whatever God will do through you, he also wants to do to you. Did you see a life changed this year? How did Jesus work in you first? Did God provide for you in some miraculous way? What did that do for your faith in him?
Our inability to talk about God’s work hurts our family. Why don’t we talk about where we see God working? After all, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that the ‘word of God is living and active.’ It is living and active because the source of that word is alive and moving throughout his creation. There are two main reasons that we tend to hold back. The first is that we either don’t believe that God is working around us or we just haven’t seen it. The truth of it is that before you met Jesus, his Holy Spirit was working in you, drawing him closer to you and speaking truths about himself so that at just the right time, God could break through to you and bring you into his family. If that was true for you (it was!) then it must be true for others as well (it is!!). God is working around you all the time drawing people to himself. After all, it is his greatest desire that none should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9). We must develop the skill of learning to see where God is working.
The second reason is that we don’t believe that our stories will be helpful for others. This past weekend Rick and I attended a church in Orange, California where a 14-year-old boy got up to relate his experiences on a mission trip to the church. They asked him questions to get more detail and showed genuine interest in his story. Rick has not stopped talking about this experience. Why? Because God was alive in that story and it encouraged Rick’s faith. Praise the Lord! I don’t know for sure, but I’m quite certain that boy didn’t show up on Sunday expecting to encourage the faith of an adult from Canada. But I am certain that the Holy Spirit moved in that boy to speak and because of his obedience, Rick’s faith was deepened.
As we go through this Christmas season, you will have many opportunities to experience God’s work in your life and in the lives of those around you. I want to encourage you to look for those and then file them away – remember them so that you can share them with others in our family, believing that God can work through your story to grow our faith and encourage our spirits.
So… how has Jesus been the hero of this year’s story for you?
I have some really good friends.
Last week was a really down week for me. It started on Sunday which, ironically, was a great day! I got to lead worship with a fun band, preach the Word and see my wife after she had been away for a few days! Unfortunately, on Monday I got an email that I knew was coming and wasn’t looking forward to, then another email on Tuesday and then I went into a meeting that didn’t go well. By Wednesday, I was just feeling beat down.
“Am I running this church into the ground?” “God, I thought you were blessing us so obviously over the last couple of months, what happened?” These and other negative thoughts were running through my head.
I texted a friend who reminded me that God is much bigger than these minor setbacks that I had been experiencing and that this church is about Jesus, not me.
Then another friend walked past my office and could tell I was off. So, he came in, closed the door and made me pray with him, then reminded me that this church is about Jesus, not me.
While the circumstances didn’t change, my perspective did. In Matthew 16, Jesus told Peter I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Of course, my mind was more focused on the work I needed to do to build his church and I was despairing because I believed that lie. The truth is that I am not responsible for the church’s success, but for my faithfulness to obey God when He directs.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. Solomon reminds us that sometimes our friends say things that we don’t want to hear. Let me tell you, I just wanted my friends to commiserate with me, to tell me that I was doing a good job and it was those other people that were ruining things, not me. Instead they told me the truth. While it stung for a moment, the truth was what I needed. My true friends walked me from a lie to the truth.
As I reflect on this now I wonder if you have friends who will tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear. More importantly, what kind of friend are you? It’s really easy to be a friend who only makes people feel good about themselves. It takes commitment and bravery to be the friend who tells people the truth knowing that in the long run that is what is needed for their spiritual growth.
God met me in the truth that my friends told me. Has that ever happened to you?
You're probably familiar with this old African proverb, if not, it goes "it takes a village to raise a child." This is true in any culture - especially the Church! Jesus invited the children to come to him (Luke 18:15-17), showing us that they are close to his heart and demonstrating our need (even adults!) to come to him with simple faith believing that he can save.
We come to the point in our church year that the appeals begin to go out for volunteers to teach our kids. Between KidsAlive (our Sunday ministry), Boys club and Girls club, there are many opportunities to be a part of this village required to raise our kids. Unfortunately, sometimes it feels like these appeals fall on deaf ears. Some people will volunteer, sure. But not enough. Did you know that every Sunday morning we need a minimum of 8 adults and youth serving in KidsAlive? If I asked you face to face, do you believe that kids ministry is important, I’m certain you would say yes. But then if I followed it up with a question about volunteering, I’m afraid we would have an awkward silence. This wouldn’t be the case with everyone, and for those of you who have been faithfully serving in our Kids ministries, THANK YOU!
However, I know that it’s the case with many people in our family. Maybe you’ve done it before and you think you’re too old to do kids ministry. Maybe someone has told you that you aren’t gifted in kids ministry, or maybe you’re afraid you don’t have the patience to serve with kids (believe me, sometimes I get that!). But the fact remains that our kids need our adults to be spiritual parents along with their natural parents!
In 2 Timothy 2, Paul exhorts Timothy to teach faithful people who will be able to teach others. The goal is to make disciples who will teach other disciples. This is God’s mission for us at Sunshine Ridge. This means telling our unsaved friends about Jesus outside of the church, but it also means teaching about Jesus inside the church – formally and informally! Whether you study, work full-time or are enjoying retirement, this mission is yours as well if you follow Jesus. Will you join us in teaching our children about him? Will you take part in growing our church and preparing our kids for a lifetime of knowing and growing in Jesus? It’s not easy work, but it is so important.
Our ministry to kids involves a variety of ages, from babies and toddlers to Grade 6. There is a week by week need for teachers with small groups, leaders for the large group, music leading and working one on one with some of our kids in KidsAlive or club programs. You may also have gifts in music, crafts or even just putting up a bulletin board on a seasonal basis. How can you invest in the lives of our kids and their families, as well as make this a more inviting place for new people to visit?
If you are willing to follow Jesus into kids ministry, would you contact the church office and let us know? We will pass it on to the leaders and they will be in touch.
Someone recently commented to me about the smell of mould in the building. I don’t personally smell it, but I guess I’ve been in the building enough in the last 13 years that maybe I’m nose blind!
I had been reflecting on the activity happening around the church for the last few weeks: the new siding, the sign coming down and all the preparations for the land sale. It was in the midst of this that I heard that comment and I wondered "are we doing all this work just to invite people into a stinky building?" Thankfully our (very skilled and VERY busy) property team had already been working on getting the equipment together to clean out the dungeon, maybe they smelled it too... If you’ve never been down there, it’s the area under the outside stairs that face Scott Road. When we walked in there was carpet that had gone black, mouldy drop sheets and all kinds of stuff that someone, likely with very good intentions, had been saving for something in the future.
A few of us spent an entire morning clearing out the room and I was reminded of a story of an encounter Jesus had with the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. In the previous couple of chapters the chief priests, then the Pharisees, then the Sadducees and now again the Pharisees have been trying to trip up Jesus so they can find cause to arrest him.
Being very wise, Jesus had blown them away with all his answers up until this point, but when you get to chapter 23, you start to sense that Jesus is getting a little tired of all their confrontation and he pronounces woes on them. In verse 25 he says, 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean."
I sometimes try to imagine living in Jesus’ day, and I really am afraid that I would be a Pharisee. How many of you, if you are honest, would probably admit that might be true of you as well? We all do exactly what Jesus talks about here! We curate what goes into our social media, try to look busy doing things for Jesus and carry our Bible in with us on Sundays all in an effort to ‘look the part’ of a Christian, all the while forgetting that there is an old carpet, black with mould, in our hearts that we are trying to ignore. Maybe you’ve even become nose blind to the smell of it. This is why we need each other! Do you have someone who knows you well enough to know what you struggle with?
The Pharisees in the text were full of greed and self-indulgence (which is really at the heart of most of our sin), how does that manifest for you? Maybe it’s anger and bitterness, the feeling of being ignored and alone, or maybe it’s an old hurt – something done to you – that you can’t let go of. Whatever it is, you might need someone to point it out to you because it is so much a part of you that you don’t even recognize it anymore.
We cannot do life alone. You need someone who will remind you of the good news of the Gospel for that secret place in your heart. In his death, Jesus was already punished for that thing you did (or that thing that was done to you) so that you can be forgiven and in his resurrection, Jesus offers you new, abundant life. Find someone who will speak that truth to you regularly and become the friend who will lovingly do that for others.
Just like the inside of the church building slowly catching up to the newness of the outside, don’t just try to look the part and allow the inside to go uncared for. Take some time right now to prayerfully read through Luke 6:43-45. Ask God what is in your heart and what needs to be dealt with, and then ask someone to help you deal with it today.